Trained The Old School Way

Assholes Anonymous

Bartending is simple work. Remember your customer’s faces, what they drink and the names of their kids. It has nothing to do with making drinks. Anyone can follow a recipe. There are seven gorillas that are better bartenders than I am. I know. I trained five of them.

I was trained to work a bar the ‘old school’ way. I was paired with an older bartender, who was always hung-over. He was in charge. I did what I was told, got screamed at if I didn’t do it right and that was just the way it was. Any complaints would have gotten me fired on the spot. My choices were to learn the job or fail. Fortunately, I showed some aptitude for the profession. This has to do with drinking at a bar. I spent so much time observing bartenders it was easy to pick-up the job.

I was working at the 48th Street Steakhouse in the fall of 2007. The place looked like a mortuary with black and white marble interior and arches that separate the bar from the main dining room. The Steakhouse had pretentions of a three star New York Times rating. Service expectations were high: bartenders were expected to be clean-shaven, pressed and prepared at all times. The daily hangover was tolerated. No less than 40 cameras were installed to make sure the house service rules were followed. These rules were detailed in three 50- page manuals handed out to each employee. Failure to follow any of these rules to the letter meant instant termination.

The first person they asked me train was Mike. “You’re an old pro Zola. It’s not a punishment but favor to the house. Please turn him into a good bartender like you are,” Bob the training manager asked. I disliked the new guy on sight. He was 24, had a peach fuzz goatee and wore stained white shirts. What really bothered me about the kid was his tendency to pronounce the word ‘man’ like he was some reggae musician.

I got good and drunk the night before his first trail came in hung-over and took my headache out on Mike. I made his life behind my bar at the 48th Street Steakhouse a hell of my own making. I beat him up verbally, made him take apart the dishwasher three times a shift and refused to let him speak to the guests. I checked to make sure Mike was shaved and pressed before I let him behind my bar. Mike didn’t complain. He just looked at me like an uncomprehending Golden Retriever puppy. After ten days, I pronounced him ready to solo. He could barely speak English but he annoyed me less than when I started trailing him. I put that one in the win column and went back to working my bar.

The next person I was asked to train was 22-year old Cindy. She had tattoos on her wrists and forearms and wore the cuffs of her white shirt turned up. “She’s a wanna-be punk rock kid,” I complained to Bob the training manager but he refused to listen. “She belongs on Clinton Street, not in Midtown.”

“You made Mike into a bartender, you can make her into one too,” he told me.

So I began the same process with Cindy: showing up hung-over, making her clean the dishwasher three times a shift, forcing her to turn down her cuffs, not letting her talk to the customers etc. Every step of the way, Cindy complained at my constant badgering. The more she bitched, the more I micro-managed her every move behind my bar. The more I micro-managed Cindy, the more she argued with me. And I love to argue, especially when I will win the argument.

“I bartended in every possible type of bar in Chicago,” she told me one night.

“Are you in Chicago,” I asked.


“Then do what the fuck I you’re told,” I said.

The more I told her what to do, the more she did her own thing. This meant I busted her balls more. The more I busted her balls over doing the job the wrong way i.e. not my way, the more Cindy hunched over and glared at me. The more she glared at me, the more I wanted to bust her balls. If only over the bar spanking were a teaching tool, I thought.

Bob and Mike egged me on, claiming I was training her the Old School way. They seemed to enjoy watching me beat up Cindy and I enjoyed escalating my abuse for their enjoyment, not to mention taking the edge of my self-inflicted pain from the drinking night before.

I sent Cindy into the regular shift rotation sooner than Mike but I continued to treat her like a trainee. After a month or so, my partner Jim warned me about harassment. “I’m making her do her job, just like everyone else. How is that harassment?”

“Watch yourself,” he said. “No one wants Human Resources to get involved. It will get ugly.”

I told Mike and Bob the training manager about Jim’s fears and they laughed. “Make her do her job Zola,” they said. Those two were enjoying seeing me take the piss out of Cindy. They found it funny. In the bar business, you never 86 funny, especially if it’s at someone else’s expense.

“Cindy came up to me and complained you were too hard on her,” Bob told me one day after work.

“What did you do,” I asked.

“I told her to be adult. You two had to work it out.”

Bob’s a good man, I thought. He’s young, 25, but he understands the Old School way.

I left to get my shoulder fixed on July 1. I returned two weeks later and was fired the next week. The official explanation, as told to me by the Human Resource Director Judy, was my failure to ring-up and deliver a drink to the customers within the allotted 45 seconds. (It took me 54.) However, I knew Cindy had told them what a bastard I had been while I trained her.

Bob and Mike took me out for a drink later that night. “That bitch. I trained her the Old School way. If she has a problem with it, she shouldn’t be behind the stick,” I slurred to Mike and Bob over a beer and several whiskeys. They agreed.

“It’s not your fault Zola, she’s a teenage Drama Queen,” Mike said.

It took me two months to find a job. It seemed every time a prospective employer called the Steakhouse, I got a bad reference. After every failed interview, I cursed Cindy and her fragile ego. I finally found a gig at a Village restaurant where the wine director was an old pal from my fantasy football league. Steve had to check my references as a matter of due diligence. He told me Mike and Bob, not Cindy, had been bad mouthing me to prospective employers.

Cindy left to become an architect. Bob runs the bar at the 48th St. Steakhouse. Bob fired Mike for being too hard on some new bartender he was training. Mike had been asked to train the newbie the same way I trained him.

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